At the Epicurean Classic, Takashi Yagahashi demonstrated two of the most popular recipes from his Chicago restaurants, both of which come from his new book, Takashi’s Noodles. Below are the recipes for Braised Pork Belly and Cold Soba Noodles with Dipping Sauce.
Braised Pork Belly with Steamed Buns
1/2 Tbs. vegetable oil
9 oz. pork belly
4 cups cold water
1/2 cup sake
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
1-1/2 cups cold water
1 cup Japanese soy sauce
3/4 cups sugar
1 piece star anise
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
1/4 head iceberg lettuce
1/4 cucumber, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 Tbs. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. cold water
1 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. mustard powder
2 tsp. water
4 steamed buns (also called “Milk Steamed Bread” available at Asian and Chinese stores), defrosted and halved
To prepare the pork belly, place an 11-inch saucte pan over high heat. Add the vegetable oil and heat until the oil just begins to smoke. Using tongs, carefully place the fatty side of the pork belly in the pan andcook until it turns golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn the pork belly over and repeat on te other sides until nicely browned all over. Decrease the heat if the oil begins to smoke again.
In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the seared pork belly, the cold water, sake, and smashed ginger, and place over high heat. Bring the liquid to a boil, then decrease the heat; simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
To make the braising liquid, combine all the ingredients in a 4-quart saucepan.
Drain the pork belly and discard the liquid, then add it to the braising liquid in the saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Braise for 1-1/2 hours, or until the pork belly is very tender.
Transfer the pork belly and braising liquid to a container and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool, then cover and chill overnight.
The next day, assemble a steamer on the stovetop. You can use a perforated pan, steam basket, or bamboo steamer. Fill the bottom with water, cover, and set over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium once the water comes to a boil.
To prepare the garnishes, discard the outer leaves of the iceberg lettuce. Place 3 large leaves in a bowl of cold water along with the cucumber slices. Set aside. (I like to soak cut vegetables in cold water for 10 minutes because it helps them retain their freshness and crispness.)
To make the sauce, combine 1/2 cup of the chilled braising liquid and the hoisin sauce in a small saucepan and set over high heat. In a bowl, mix the water and cornstarch until smooth. When the sauce just begins to boil, whisk in the cornstarch and cook briefly, just until the sauce begins to thicken. Make sure it doesn’t thicken too much–the sauce should run in a steady stream when poured. Set aside.
To make the mustard sauce, mix the mustard powder and water in a small bowl. Set aside.
Remove the pork belly from the remaining braising liquid and cut into 8 slices, each 1/4-inch thick (you’ll have leftovers).
Place the slices in a single layer side by side with the halved buns on a plate small enough to fit in the steamer. Set the plate in the steamer, cover, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft and heated through.
While the pork belly and buns are steaming, finish preparing the garnishes by draining the lettuce and cucumber and patting dry with a towel. Cut the lettuce into pieces the size of the buns and stack in 4 small piles. Top each pile with 2 slices of cucumber.
To serve, assemble a braised pork “sandwich.” Drizzle the sauce over the meat and top with the other half of the bun. Serve with the mustard on the side.
Homemade Soba Noodles
Makes 1-1/2 lb. (serves 4)
In his book, Takashi describes how to roll and cut the noodles by hand, but in his demo he used a Kitchen Aid pasta attachment, just like you would for Italian pasta: fold the dough in thirds and pass it through the widest setting of the rollers. Repeat the fold and roll about five or six times, until the dough is satiny and smooth. Then roll the sheet of dough progressively thinner, cutting it in half lengthwise when it gets too long to handle. Finally, run the dough sheets through the spaghetti cutting attachment to cut into noodles.
2-1/4 cups buckwheat flour, more for dusting
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cold water, more if needed
Sift both flours through a sifter or fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the water and mix well by hand. Slowly add more water and continue mixing until the dough begins to form and stick together. The 1 cup of water is just a guide–you may not need to use all of it, or you may need to add more depending on the level of humidity. You want the dough to be smooth and firm, not soft and wet like pizza dough.
Knead the dough by folding the bottom part over the top and pressing down with your entire body weight. Rotate a quarter turn and continue kneading, working the dough until it becomes smooth and shiny 5 to 6 minutes total.
How do you know if you’ve kneaded enough? Test the dough by gently stretching a golf-ball-size piece between your hands until the dough extends 2 inches before breaking. When you’ve finished kneading, form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Let it rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Once rested, divide the dough into four pieces. Wrap three of them in plastic until you’re ready to work with them. Lightly dust your counter with buckwheat flour and set one piece of dough on it. Press down on the dough with your hands until you form a square, then with a rolling pin, roll it into a thin rectangle at least 18 inches long and 1/16 inch thick. Be sure to rotate and flip the dough every few rolls, dusting it with flour each time.
Lightly fold lengthwise to layer the dough into thirds. Gently place a wooden box or other straight edge on the dough to use as a guide for cutting straight noodles. With a flat knife, cut the layered dough into 1/8-inch thick strips. Gently shake out the noodles and place them loosely on a plate until ready to use. Repeat with the remaining dough.
To cook the noodles, place a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Submerge a metal strainer in the water and add the noodles. Cook for 1 minute or until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water. Serve with hot or cold soba broth.
Cold Soba Broth
5 cups dashi (Japanese stock)
1-1/4 cups Japanese soy sauce
1-1/4 cups mirin
3/4 cup packed katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
1/2 cup shredded nori
2 Tbs. yuzu peel (or substitute lemon zest)
2 scallions, both white and green parts, thinly sliced
4 tsp. wasabi paste
To prepare the broth, ready an ice bath and set aside. Combine the dashi, soy sauce, and mirin in a stockpot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to a simmer and add the katsuobushi. Simmer for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and let sit for 3 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and place the bowl in the ice bath to cool.
To prepare the garnishes, arrange the nori, yuzu peel, scallions, and wasabi in small bunches on each of 4 small plates.
Pour the broth into 4 teacups or small dipping bowls (about 1/2 cup per person; you’ll have extra broth). Divide the noodles among 4 large plates.
To eat, top the noodles with the shredded nori and add the yuzu peel, scallions, and wasabi to taste to the broth. Grab some noodles with chopsticks and dip them into the broth to coat the noodles, then quickly slurp them down.